Why it matters: There is no shortage of Hollywood films depicting the imminent doom of human race thanks to a rogue asteroid on a collision course with Earth. It's a scenario that makes for great onscreen entertainment, but one that's also a very real threat. Eventually, it's going to happen (again) and just like in the movies, we want to have some sort of defense in place.
It's why NASA scientists are planning to launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a space probe expected to launch in 2020 with the goal of slamming into an asteroid. The hope is that the impact will be able to alter the asteroid's orbit.
Given the vast space of space, even a tiny alteration in an asteroid's projected path could be enough to cause it to miss Earth and possibly save humanity over the course of millions of miles.
NASA's target with DART is Didymos, and a binary asteroid system orbited by a smaller satellite roughly 490 feet in diameter. The probe will crash into this smaller asteroid. They are not on the path for Earth, and there is no possibility of impact causing danger to us.
Mark Fittock, and Monash University alum that worked on NASA's InSight lander, told The Sydney Morning Herald that if they were smart about what they hit the asteroid with, they could use something smaller but to better effect.
"If this was really happening and we had to stop it, we do not know much about our options at the moment – we know we could hit something, but we do not know what to hit it with," he said.
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